Following the Maine Incident in Havana Harbor in 1898, President McKinley is looking to get in contact with Calixto Garcia, the leader of Cuba’s revolt against Spain. Andrew Summers Rowan (John Boles) is recruited for the job of hand-delivering a letter from President McKinley to Garcia.
Rowan manages to sneak his way into Cuba, but soon discovers that the Spanish are also trying to reach Garcia. He must be the first to reach Garcia, so he enlists the help of Raphaelita (Barbara Stanwyck), the daughter of one of Garcia’s revolutionaries, and Sergeant Dory (Wallace Beery), a drunken deserter from the US Marines.
A Message to Garcia was directed by George Marshall. The screenplay was written by W. P. Lipscomb and Gene Fowler.
A Message to Garcia offers an interesting angle on the usual adventurous quest, since Rowan is working directly for the president of the United States. He’s also carrying out his mission in the midst of Cuba’s War of Independence and the beginning of the Spanish-American War, which isn’t a setting I’ve seen very often in Hollywood films.
It’s a film with lots of action, from fist fights to gun fights. There’s a very exciting final battle, and a bit of romance to accompany all of the danger.
Unfortunately, the romance isn’t executed terribly successfully. The viewer doesn’t feel a genuine connection between Rowan and Raphaelita, though they do have a few cute scenes.
Part of the issue is that Boles is just a very forgettable hero. The letter quest itself brings some interesting drama — a plot that seems to eclipse its leading man, which is unfortunate since he’s based on a real person! Wallace Beery also steals a heck of a lot of scenes here, occupying a lot of the viewer’s attention.
As for Stanwyck’s part, this is one of her least significant roles. So often, she captured the viewer’s whole attention in her films, either in the leading role or as a co-lead. The character is still interesting — a revolutionary’s daughter tired of seeing her country torn apart. Stanwyck brings a blend of toughness and vulnerability to the character. Her attempt at an accent is terrible, but she looks stylish as hell in an equestrian-style outfit (completed with a gun holster and neck scarf). I just wish she was given more to do!
A Message to Garcia is an okay watch — certainly not among Stanwyck’s best films, but not on my least-favorites list either. It’s worth a watch for a decently engaging action-adventure .